Our interview relay series continues, as Hirooki Goto nominates YOSHI-HASHI!
In Chain Reactions we hear from figures in and out of the ring in NJPW as they discuss what brought them to the cerulean blue. Each interview subject nominates the next, so in this second interview, Hirooki Goto has nominated YOSHI-HASHI!
Hirooki Goto part 1
Hirooki Goto part 2
First grade, I got home, turned the TV on, and there was World Pro-Wrestling
YOSHI-HASHI’s first day at school
–So, are you ready to pick up the relay baton from Hirooki Goto?
YH: Let’s do it!
–So, Goto told us you had quite a unique journey, and some very interesting photos to share. Let’s start at the beginning though. When did you first see pro-wrestling?
YH: I was in first grade, it would have been around… 1991? Back then, where I’m from in Aichi, World Pro-Wrestling would run on Saturdays at 4PM.
–So you were quite young.
YH: Believe it or not, I know Toru Yano always picks on me for having terrible handwriting, but I actually took calligraphy class! I’d get home, flip on the TV, and there was wrestling.
–What impact did those wrestlers have on you at that age?
YH: Oh, a huge impact. (Riki) Choshu and Jyushin Thunder Liger made a mark on me. And Masanobu Kurisu, the image of him with a chair…
–La Parka would become famous in the west for his use of chairs, but in those days they called Kurisu ‘the chairman’.
YH: And with Liger that costume really made a visual impression on me. But Choshu was my favourite.
–So were there many wrestling fans at school?
YH: I don’t think so, it wasn’t something I talked about at school or anything. Being from Aichi, it was all baseball, the Chunichi Dragons.
–So you were the only fan in your class?
YH: Well, actually they changed the timeslot, and I couldn’t read the listings in the newspaper, so I forgot about it for a while (laughs).
–Oh no, nobody told you!
YH: Well, even if they had, I wasn’t allowed to stay up late enough, and we didn’t have a video deck to tape it.
–So what got you back in?
YH: It was the big NJPW vs UWFI Tokyo Dome card, when they ran a prime time special. Nobuhiko Takada vs Keiji Muto in the main event. (watch on NJPW World!)
–That would have been January 4 1996. The All Out War event in October 1995 was so successful, they put the January 4 card on prime time.
YH: So that made me go ‘oh, hey, wrestling’s on TV!’ and then I saw a caption advertising the regular show late at night.
–So then you finally found out!
YH: I begged my parents to buy a VCR so I could tape it every week.
–There must have been quite a few new faces on the roster.
YH: Right. Like Muto was the top guy, but I didn’t know his name when I was watching before. He was just the dude in orange pants to me when I was a first grader. Masahiro Chono was ‘that guy who grunts weird’.(laughs)
–Were there other wrestling fans in junior high?
YH: Back then there was a show called Ring Spirits as a leadin to World Pro-Wrestling. It was a variety show, but with a combat sports theme. That got a lot of friends interested, and drew them in. I had a few friends in middle school I could talk wrestling with.
–So did you do a lot of play wrestling?
YH: Oh yeah! At school, and mattresses at home. I couldn’t lift anyone up, so I’d do DDTs. Figure Fours as well.
–Goto was talking about emulating Steve Williams and doing Murderous Backdrops…
YH: Wow, I didn’t go as hard as that. I did get mats from the gym store cupboard and practiced dives onto them. The gym teacher caught me and went crazy.
I phoned directory services and ask for wrestling gyms…
YOSHI-HASHI with RINGS fighter Kurahashi
–So while you were getting into watching wrestling every week, did the thought come to you that it was something you wanted to do one day?
YH: No, I just liked watching it at first. I’d tape World Pro-Wrestling and just watch it over and over again until the next week’s episode.
–Did you read the magazines?
YH: I started out reading Weekly Pro, and then started getting Gong. Gong had better photos back in the day. Now, Weekly Pro looks great, but back then…
–Gong had the edge for you.
YH: It was 30 or 40 Yen more expensive, but it was worth it. I think there’s still stacks of Weekly Gong in my parents’ house.
–What kind of a student were you?
YH: A terrible one (laughs). I just didn’t see the point in school, and then in the last year of junior high I went from just liking wrestling to really wanting to be a part of it.
–You’d made up your mind?
YH: I figured I’d enroll at an MMA Dojo or something out of junior high. My mom told me to at least get through high school, but there wasn’t one nearby with a wrestling club, so I went into a vocational school.
–A bit of a non-traditional path. You went into a cookery school, right?
YH: Yeah. If I had to go to school, cookery school was best, I figured. I didn’t hate cooking, and the exams were simple enough for me to pass. I thought if I could find a gym and do some wrestling on the side then I could get through it.
–So then you looked for a dojo?
YH: Right. I didn’t have the internet back then, so I phoned directory services and asked for wrestling gyms.
–And any luck?
YH: As it happened there was an MMA gym about ten minutes bike ride from my house. The Yamada Sports Club. It’s still around, actually.
–So you paid a monthly fee, or…?
YH: Actually for some reason, it was free for students. I just had to enroll in insurance, which was like 1400 Yen a year.
–So you got really lucky. You had eyes on pro-wrestling, but this was in the middle of the K-1 and PRIDE boom.
YH: PRIDE had just started, yeah. I saw some of that stuff, but it didn’t do it for me like pro-wrestling did.
–What was practice there like in that dojo?
YH: There was a fighter called Tatsuya Kurahashi coming to the dojo a lot. He’d had a few fights in RINGS and taught me a lot. But it was pretty tough, all in all. There wasn’t anybody my age, mostly people out there in the world, much bigger and much tougher.
–Tetsuya Naito has talked about sparring with you in Animal Hamaguchi’s gym. You learned all that at Yamada’s though?
YH: Well, learned… I’m such a slow learner, I’d just be beaten up terribly. I’d get caught in a mount, choked with my own arm.
–But all your learning came from that dojo rather than school.
YH: Yeah. I was always the youngest!
–If you were in high school, you’d get to be the senpai one day, but not here.
YH: Right, but it wasn’t all bad. Everyone else was adult, so you didn’t get any of the dumb stuff. No hazing, no bullying. It made me think about what real strong people are like.
I bought one of those dumb ‘grow 15cm fast!’ gimmicks from the back of the magazine…
–When NJPW had a Tokon Shop in Nagoya, I hear you went there quite a lot, involved with the Tokon Gym?
YH: Yeah, that’s right. I was really skinny at the time. Everyone in my family was skinny, it’s genes I guess. When I started the vocational school, I was only 50kg, and I couldn’t get any bigger training at Yamada Sports Club either.
— I see.
YH: I didn’t get any taller either. My older brother had a huge growth spurt in high school, but it just wasn’t coming. You know in the back of Weekly Gong, you used to have all those mail order ads?
–Right. I think a lot of them weren’t on the up-and-up though…
YH: Yeah! I got one of those ‘grow 15cm fast!’ gimmicks.
YH: It cost me 30,000 Yen! I needed that thing! I got these suspicious pills, too, that said they added 20cm to your spine somehow.
YH: So I’d be taking these pills, all while doing this weird machine that stretched your legs, supposedly. You lie down and lock your legs in place, then crank a handle with your hands…
–You literally put yourself on a torture rack to make it into wrestling.
YH: I thought if I didn’t, I wouldn’t even make it to the tryouts.
–And did it work?
YH: No kidding, I’m 10 cm taller than my brother now! I got 20cm taller during my time at vocational school.
–No way! The stuff worked!
YH: Well, I don’t know about that… Anyway, where were we?
–The Tokon Gym?
YH: Ah, yeah! That was after graduation. Back then, to get into the NJPW tryout, you needed to be 180cm and 75kg. I just about scraped by on height, but was only 60kg. So I figured I’d keep going to Yamada’s and do Tokon Gym as well, since they did wrestling class there and had a ring.
–Last time, Hirooki Goto talked about going to the Tokon Gym, while he was healing his shoulder.
YH: That’s right! I heard about that. But the timing wasn’t quite right, we just missed one another.
I worked in construction for a while…
YOSHI-HASHI shortly before his move to Tokyo
–You just missed each other, then. You moved to Tokyo at 21; what did you do in the two years after graduating?
YH: Training, and working. I worked in construction for a while.
–But you studied cookery…
YH: Yeah, I just about got a chef’s license, but because I couldn’t put on weight, I thought physical work would be best. My mom complained, but after talking it over, she just about agreed to it. It was really hard work though.
–Definitely a tough job.
YH: I had to build scaffolding, so I’d be carrying in all these metal pipes by hand, putting them up. It was insane. I actually lost weight.
–You wanted to get big, but the results were different.
YH: I thought ‘this is no good’, so then I did part time work in a gym; I figured I could learn how to get big that way.
–There’s a story to that gym, right? You met the guy who actually made your entrance theme there.
YH: That’s right. He was an instructor at the gym, but he was a really interesting dude. He’d worked training horses overseas, made music, a lot of different stuff. I said to him I wanted to be a pro-wrestler and he goes ‘you should move to Tokyo, right? Nothing’s gonna change here’.
–He gave you the push. He sounds worldly wise…
YH: He was ten years older than me. He did a lot of work in Tokyo but would bounce back and forth to Aichi. So he kinda inspired me to come to Tokyo. He helped me pick out places to live, even hooked me up with jobs there.
He said ‘if you ever have a match in the Tokyo Dome, I’ll make a song for you’
–He really did a lot for you. So what did you do for work in Tokyo?
YH: I just did whatever came to me, so I worked in a photo studio. I was an assistant for a photographer doing product shots for a mail order catalogue. The work was what it was but it was close to Hamaguchi’s Gym and Ryogoku Sumo Hall.
–So that’s when things began to click for you?
YH: I owe it all to that one friend. He told me when I went to Tokyo, ‘if you ever get a match in the tokyo Dome, I’ll make a song for you.’
–And that’s the HEAD HUNTER theme you use to this day!
YH: Right. It took ten years, but it happened. I owe so much to him; his name as an artist is Ari-C by the way!
–He seems like such a big influence.
YH: Oh yeah. He had so much life experience that his advice really meant a lot. He told me to follow my dreams and inspuired me to get bigger, to keep at it. I owe him a ton.
Animal Hamaguchi’s legs were insane
At Animal Hamaguchi’s Gym
–Had you always planned on going to Hamaguchi’s Gym?
YH: Yeah. I’d heard a lot of guys went pro after going through that gym. When I first went, Hamaguchi himself was there.
–What did you think, meeting him?
YH: His legs were insane. Like tree trunks. I’d never seen anything like it, especially considering he was already retired at this point. Anyway, he just yelled ‘good luck, kid!’
–Did you talk to him about NJPW?
YH: Not at that point, I just said I wanted to be a wrestler.
–So did you ever think about other companies?
YH: No, it was only NJPW for me. I mean, I took the tryout three times!
–That’s how much you wanted it.
YH: It goes back to that Takada and Muto match, you know? Pro-wrestling is NJPW, NJPW is pro-wrestling to me. I got so big into the Three Musketeers. Even just the colour of the mat. I like the blue, better than the red and blue All Japan had at the time.
–All cerulean for you.
YH: It sounds small, but it all adds up in my mind.
–Goto talked about wanting to wrestle in the Tokyo Dome.
YH: That was a big thing for me, as well. I always wondered what it would be like to go down that long ramp. Back in the day, the ramp would be elevated, all the way to the ring; I always thought that was really cool.
Continued in part 2!